TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Tuesday that all 67 Publix pharmacies in Palm Beach County, along with seven in Martin County and two in Monroe County, will soon offer the COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccines will be offered to Floridians 65 and older and will be available by appointment only, DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in Jupiter.
“Rather than have them drive all over God’s creation, we understand that if you are 80 years old, it is easier to go to the supermarket than some of this other stuff,” DeSantis said.
The select Publix pharmacies in Palm Beach, Monroe and Martin counties will start taking appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday, and shots will begin to be administered on Thursday, DeSantis said. Each store will have 100 or 125 shots available per day, DeSantis said.
The state’s weekly vaccine supply relies on the allocations provided by the federal government, and the state officials said earlier this month limited supply has hurt the state’s vaccine rollout plan.
The federal government does not provide state officials with a long-range estimate for what they can expect two weeks or more in the future, and the number of vaccines the state acquires can vary on a weekly basis.
DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice told the Times/Herald on Tuesday the governor is “confident” the state will be able to meet the 100 to 125 dose daily day allotment to Palm Beach, Monroe and Martin county Publix pharmacies announced Tuesday.
When asked about vaccine availability at stores, Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said, “We are confident that we are doing everything we can to vaccinate as many folks as we can.”
But Tampa state Sen. Janet Cruz on Tuesday criticized the governor for doing what she described as a “public relations run with no produce, and no product in sight.”
“It is insane that we are trying to fool Floridians here,” Cruz said during a virtual Senate Democratic caucus meeting. “It is wrong.”
At the news conference, DeSantis said he anticipates Florida will get more vaccines from the federal government on a weekly basis “than what we have been getting.”
“I think they are going to give us more just naturally because there is going to be more vaccines, but then I also think that if they stick to this idea that places with higher senior populations get more … then, that is obviously going to help us because 21 percent of our state is 65 and over,” DeSantis said, though he did not provide specifics.
According to the state’s Monday COVID-19 vaccine report, 1 million Floridians have been vaccinated and 93,258 of those people have received the series of two doses.
DeSantis’ announcement is the latest step by his administration to expand access to the vaccine through a partnership with Publix, the state’s largest grocery chain. The governor said 181 Publix pharmacies in 15 counties will now carry the vaccine.
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“We initially just focused on some counties that had high senior populations, but maybe not as robust health systems as you would see in Miami-Dade or Orlando, and then we tried to focus on medium-sized counties that had a lot of seniors,” DeSantis said, noting Palm Beach County will be the first “really large county” to be part of the Publix vaccine rollout.
In Monroe County, Publix pharmacies in Islamorada and Key West will offer the vaccine, DeSantis said. Just last week, officials with the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County blamed the state for an “unanticipated lag” in delivering additional COVID-19 vaccines to the Keys.
The governor did not provide the exact locations in Martin County. But more information can be found on Publix.com/covidvaccines.
Other more populous Florida counties, like Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Orange, Seminole and Duval do not have COVID-19 vaccines available at Publix pharmacies yet. Broud said there is no timeline on when doses could become available in those counties, noting that it will depend on vaccine availability.
DeSantis has not indicated which counties are next in line. He only told reporters on Tuesday that the state “will do more [Publix pharmacies] as we get more vaccines in.”
DeSantis said the vaccines are meant for Florida residents only and that Florida is “not doing vaccine tourism.”
“This is for Florida residents,” DeSantis said. “We understand a place like North Palm Beach County you have people that live here six months, that’s fine, they use the hospitals here and they pay taxes. But to come from another country or whatever, we do not support that, and we are not going to allow that.”
However, residents over 65 from countries like Argentina, Canada and Brazil are accessing South Florida’s vaccine portals in hopes of receiving a shot.
Publix and several hospitals have told the Miami Herald that they do not require any proof of residency for patients making vaccine appointments. The hospitals include Baptist Health South Florida and Jackson Health System.
When patients make vaccine appointments at Publix, they are asked to provide their Medicare number, Social Security number or a driver’s license, Brous said. She said DeSantis would have to set a proof of residency requirement for them to require other types of documentation to determine whether someone is a part-time or full-time Florida resident.
Florida Health Department spokesman Jason Mahon said earlier this month that “all eligible individuals” could receive the vaccine, as long as they will be in the country for the second dose of the vaccine. Currently, eligible individuals include healthcare workers, long-term care residents and individuals over 65.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday said they want a more robust investigation into vaccine tourism.
“We need to be very, very careful that this is not happening but that we also draw attention to it,” said state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat.